BY ASLAM ABD JALIL
I REFER to the letter “Give jobs to locals instead of refugees” (NST, March 21). I would like to correct some points raised by the writer.
ON allowing refugees to work: It is an effort to weed out those who hold fake United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) cards.
This mechanism can help because the records of refugees will be tallied with their work permits. However, it is more than this. Allowing refugees to work means they will no longer be employed illegally or work in “black market”.
Work rights for refugees are a violation of the country’s laws: Section 55 of the Immigration Act 1959/63 gives discretionary power to the home minister to allow a class of people to enter this country and it has been used a few times. IMM 13 permits were issued before to the Moro, Acehnese and Rohingya refugees to allow them to stay and work. In fact, the Muslim Chams from Cambodia were accepted and integrated into local society.
WHAT about locals who are jobless?: There are many factors that contribute to unemployment among Malaysians. Blaming refugees and migrants of stealing jobs is simplistic and xenophobic. Refugees whom I’ve met said they were willing to take up 3D (dirty, dangerous and demeaning) jobs.
In fact, refugees are already working in informal sectors. It’s a matter of legalising for better regulation and protection.
THIS policy encourages those still in their home countries to redouble their efforts to enter Malaysia illegally: Refugees flee their home countries because of “well-founded fear of persecution”. If people come just solely because they want to work, they are not refugees; they are economic migrants and they are not entitled to rights as refugees. Refugees find a safe haven while economic migrants find better opportunities overseas.
Malaysians must be prioritised when it comes to filling up vacancies: The main problem is that Malaysians do not want 3D jobs. Why do we need foreign workers when refugees are already here and they have been working all this while? The process of taking in migrant workers costs a lot to both employers and industries. Refugees who are familiar with Malaysian culture can also easily adapt compared to the migrants, who are alien to this country.
BY allowing refugees to freely enter our country and issuing cards to those who are not genuine refugees, the United Nations is violating Malaysians’ rights: UNHCR does thorough background checks through refugee status determination. Nowadays, the newly arrived refugees from Chin, Myanmar, are no longer considered as having “well-founded fear of persecution” due to the stability in the region. If Malaysia wants to safeguard its internal affairs, the responsibility to handle refugees should not be outsourced to UNHCR, which has limited resources.
THE government should close the UNHCR office in Kuala Lumpur: As a member of the UN Security Council, protecting refugees in a humane way that fully respects the international laws is needed for world stability. Malaysia was a member of UNHCR from 1993 to 1998 and was also elected as Chair of the 52nd session of the UNHCR in 1995. Closing down the office is contradictory to Malaysia’s foreign policy, which promotes global peace within the international framework and bodies.
Government should insist refugees be deported to third countries: This is against the non-refoulement principle under the customary international law which Malaysia is bound to follow. For a few years, Malaysia has the highest number of refugees being “resettled” (not deported) to third countries such as the United States, Australia and Canada. However, being resettled to third countries remains a slim option for the refugees due to other more severe refugee conflict in other regions.
Malaysia is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention: Malaysia is a signatory to other conventions and declarations that specifically provide protection for refugees, such as Article 11 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Article 22 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 16 of the Asean Declaration of Human Rights, Article 12 of The Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam and Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Existing conventions and declarations that Malaysia ratified already outline legal and moral responsibilities for Malaysia to give protection to the refugees.
If Malaysia is accommodating, refugee numbers will rise: This is why there should be a clear mandate given to a particular agency to handle refugees. Currently, no ministry is liaising directly with UNHCR, and UNHCR is assumed to take care of the refugees without support.
The Home Ministry should work together with UNHCR and the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, and share equal responsibilities in handling refugees.
If the other parties are so concerned, they can take in these refugees: During the UN General Assembly in October last year, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak pledged to bring 3,000 Syrian refugees into Malaysia over the next three years. How do you expect them to live here without being able to earn a living? In fact, the existing 1,380 Syrian refugees in Malaysia are unable to work.
The right to work should be extended to all refugees, and not discriminated based on nationalities, ethnicity or gender. My request is simple: understand why employment rights mean a lot to the refugees. Everyone should get to know them and listen to their stories and the hardship they face everyday.
Aslam Abd Jalil, Master of Public Policy student at International Institute of Public Policy and Management, Universiti Malaya, and a refugee rights advocate